Unions FAQ

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Looking to learn more about unions? We’ve got you covered. Below are a few frequently asked questions about unions and how they work. Click on a question to show the answer.

Have a question that’s not on this list? Reach out to us at the AFT-Kansas office at 785-235-0262 or email us at organizing@aftks.org. We’re always happy to help!

What does it mean that I have a union?
It means that your coworkers decided to come together to tackle issues at work collectively. The purpose of a union is to make work safer, protect workers against poor management, and to give workers a bigger voice on the job.

What do unions do?
The biggest responsibilities of a union are to represent workers in negotiations with management, to help workers resolve workplace issues, and to provide mutual support. Your union is not alone though, and through coalitions and affiliations of different unions, members also have access to a wide variety of benefits.

I heard the union has a “contract,” what does that mean?

A contract – also called a collective bargaining agreement or a memorandum of agreement – is the result of a legally-binding negotiation process between the union and management. A contract usually is in place for a few years at a time, and it outlines things like wages, insurance, retirement, overtime, workplace safety, scheduling and remote work, vacation and sick time, grievance and disciplinary procedures, and all kinds of other topics that are relevant to the job. Contracts apply to all workers in the unit, not just dues-paying union members.

Contract negotiations can sometimes take a while to complete, because both the workers and management have to agree on all parts of the agreement. After negotiations have completed, union members vote to ratify the contract. The commitment to workplace democracy is a hallmark of being in a union.

One thing to keep in mind, the ability of the union to get favorable concessions from management in contract negotiations is in direct relation to the number of dues-paying members: the strength of the union is its members.

What is a grievance?

Simply put, a grievance is any statement of dissatisfaction regarding working conditions. Is management not following the contract? Do you feel unsafe at work? Are you being treated differently from your coworkers? Are you being asked to do work that’s not part of your job? All these situations are common examples of where you can file a grievance.

The exact procedure for how grievances are resolved will differ from union to union, but your fellow union members are here to help you through that process. Some members even volunteer to become stewards, who take on extra responsibilities in representing and protecting their coworkers.

Aren’t unions bad for business though?
No! The fact of the matter is that workplaces with a union have more satisfied and productive employees, less turnover, and are safer and more equitable. A lot of companies talk bad about unions though because unions empower workers, which takes away power from management. Having a strong union means that management is legally bound to the stipulations and worker protections negotiated in a contract, making it much harder for them to exploit you.

What about those stories where unions keep bad workers on the job?
Remember, a union is a group of workers at the same place that got together to make the workplace a better, safer, fairer place. Strong unions can make sure that hiring, firing, promotion, and disciplinary processes are objective and equitable—that way, the boss can’t help only their friends and punish people arbitrarily.

What’s the deal with dues? I thought I was a member just because I work at a place with a union.
When you work at a place with a union, you are a unit member, meaning you’re covered by the union contract and are entitled to union representation, but you are not a member of the union. By becoming a dues-paying member, you gain the right to vote on union issues – for union leadership, contract ratification, dues amounts, etc. – to represent other union and unit members, and to access union benefits.

What does having “union representation” mean?

There are two parts to this. The first is that a union’s elected leaders are empowered to represent the entire unit in dealings with management. This covers things like contract negotiations and “meet and confer” sessions where the boss and the union work as legal equals to collaboratively solve problems. The second is that employees have the right to having a member of their union with them in any conversation with a superior that can in any way lead to that employee being disciplined or fired.

Learn more about your Weingarten Rights here.

What is a union steward?
A steward is a union member that has volunteered to be a representative for their coworkers when it comes to dealing with management. Stewards are trained to know the contract and are generally the first point of contact for workers when filing a grievance. When you ask for a union representative to be present at a meeting or discussion with management, it’s the stewards who are there to help you out.

What’s this about union benefits?
Being an AFT member brings quite a bit of benefits, from education to insurance to travel and shopping discounts. We’ve developed a Quick Guide to the benefits you get as an AFT union member. Take a look!

Ok, so how do I get involved?

The easiest way to get started is to talk to your local union leaders or stewards. If you don’t know who they are, you can call the AFT-Kansas office at 785-235-0262 or email us at organizing@aftks.org and we’ll help you out.

If you’re ready to join now, click here and welcome!